Young people of Bhubaneswar came together on March 13 with posters and banners declaring, ‘I am Mahan’, symbolizing the Mohan Forest, vandalized by coal block grabbers whom the plutocratic state has been patronizing.
Greenpeace volunteers and supporters from across the country celebrated the day as the day of victory of democracy following the historic verdict of Delhi High Court on the preceding day in favor of Greenpeace activist, Priya Pillai.
Young activists from all over the country have came together in solidarity with the people of Mahan – the 50,000 villagers from tribal and forest dwelling communities, who are threatened with dire loss of their livelihoods because of a proposed coal mine in Mahan forests –their home and primary source of livelihoods.
On January 11, 2015, Pillai was on her way to London to talk about the forest and human rights violations in Mahan, when she was arbitrarily offloaded from her flight. After a harrowing two months, the court ruled on March 12 in favor of Pillai and quashed the lookout circular issued against her. The court also ordered that the endorsement of ‘Offloaded’ be expunged and that she be removed from the Intelligence Bureau’s database.
“The government must accept that dissenters are essential to a vibrant democracy. The government cannot force their own definition of development down the throats of tribal and forest communities. They have to work with civil society to come up with a sustainable and equitable model of development,” said Priya Pillai, who has worked with the people of Mahan over the last five years, making them aware of their rights as per the Forest Rights Act.
De-allocated by the Supreme Court, after the coal scam verdict, the Mahan coal block was initially given jointly to London-registered Essar Energy and Indian firm Hindalco. The growing fight to stop the mine is believed to be the reason Pillai was singled out by the government as she was headed to the UK to brief British MPs on the issue. In December 2014, the Ministry of Environment informed the Ministry of Coal that Mahan coal block should be considered an inviolate forest area and not be auctioned for mining.
“In this new era of bans, this judgment will go down in history as a victory for democracy. It upholds our basic right as Indians to freedom of speech and expression and makes it clear that criticism of the government’s policies does not make one anti-national”, said Debu Nayak a volunteer coordinator with Greenpeace India.